Walk through a concourse at Baltimore’s BWI Airport these days and you can’t help noticing the enormous navy blue and white banner fluttering overhead, advertising the University of Maryland’s degree program in cybersecurity.
Maryland has been hard at work burnishing its entire brand when it comes to cybersecurity, and the gigantic airport banner is just one element of it.
Cybersecurity has suddenly become a white-hot industry, with a growth curve into the future to match. San Antonio already has a significant piece of that market, with its crown jewel being the 24th Air Force, also known as the Cybercommand, located at Port San Antonio, the former Kelly Air Force Base. But if it wants to continue to retain and grow its share of the market, it’ll have to keep a close eye on its direct competition located across the country in Maryland.
Maryland has truly rolled out the red carpet for cyberbusiness. There’s a comprehensive website, www.CyberMaryland.org, and an equally comprehensive network of state-backed tax and financial incentives for businesses locating there. There’s a “Cybersecurity Investment Incentive Tax Credit,” offering a refundable tax credit of up to 33 percent of the investment in a single fiscal year, worth up to a quarter of a million dollars; funding sources available for cybersecurity businesses (startups through mature companies) through InvestMaryland; and no fewer than 27 business incubators devoted to stimulating national security-related businesses. Maryland also touts its number of colleges and universities teaching cybersecurity, preparing tomorrow’s industry talent pool in the classroom today, 13 of which are recognized by the NSA as Centers of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance. San Antonio has five.
It’s a pretty staggering, and sobering, list of incentives available for businesses desiring to locate in Maryland. Can San Antonio compete with that directly? Spend some time digging around the Web, searching for San Antonio’s emphasis on cyberbusiness, and you will find it’s not the best comparison, though the scale is clearly apples to oranges (what a city can offer, versus a state).
While San Antonio has many assets to tout, from facilities, military and civilian industry expertise, and academic opportunities, what we don’t have is a single unified destination website like CyberMaryland to bring together all the available resources, public and private, at one easily recognizable URL. In fact, the undeveloped dotcom domain name for CyberCityUSA, which San Antonio sometimes calls itself, is owned by a couple in Western Massachusetts.
What we do have is pockets of information spread here and there, including a blog(!) at the City of San Antonio’s Economic Development Department, a TedX speech on YouTube, and an aging PowerPoint presentation. For a city that wants to make its argument that we be at least the #2 choice in location for cyberbusiness beyond the Beltway, we may have to, like Avis in the commercials of old, try a little harder to burnish the brand. And San Antonio has many unique assets to promote.
Expert after expert cites Texas’ attractive business climate – lower labor costs, a right-to-work state, and an economy that weathered even the last recession relatively intact – while emphasizing the quality of life issues for employees, including greater buying power because of the low cost of living. There’s also hundreds of days of sunshine a year, the freedom from most natural disasters, and an energy grid that keeps prices extraordinarily competitive.
In addition to better weather – no snow shoveling here, Maryland take note – “San Antonio has that perfect combination of government, industry and academia all focused on various aspects of cybersecurity and cyberspace,” says Mark Frye, a regional military affairs consultant, who wrote the base conversion handbook on Kelly AFB.
“We’re gifted or blessed in San Antonio with the presence of a number of federal agencies,” says Frye, citing the installations of the 24th Air Force, the Navy’s 10th fleet, the National Security Administration (“NSA”), cyber operations for U.S. Army North, the homeland security portion of the Army, the FBI’s cybersecurity unit and Homeland Security as part of what collectively makes San Antonio a hub for cyber.
In addition to the 24th Air Force’s location in “Building 171,” the 460,000-square-foot force-protected facility at Port San Antonio built to stringent anti-terrorism standards, where 3,000 personnel work in support of 11 different Air Force missions, there’s a 45-acre parcel of land available for development, known as “Lindbergh Park.” Frye envisions its highest and best use as a place where military organizations and defense contractors would work side by side, “a sort of Crystal City done right,” he remarks.
Will Garrett, vice president for economic development at the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, sees San Antonio’s long relationship with the military, and the wide range of “former enlisted to general officers who make San Antonio their home,” as part of the city’s “secret sauce.” Those factors have resulted in a large available workforce, led by former military, strategic for building an “alternate operating location” other than the Beltway, seen as crucial for operations that “don’t want to put all their eggs in one basket.”
The San Antonio Chamber of Commerce has for years expressed a goal that the city become “a recognized cyber community model for others.” Approximately 900 businesses located here are involved in information technology, while multiple San Antonio colleges and universities offer degrees in cybersecurity and cybersecurity management. Increasingly, there’s also an emphasis on creating an educational pipeline that starts in area high schools, a number of which teach courses in cyber and IT curricula, leading up through community college programs, and public and private four-year colleges.
Recently, University of Texas at San Antonio topped the list of best schools in the country for cybersecurity course and degree programs, as published in the February issue of Computerworld magazine. The survey was conducted among 2,000 certified IT security professionals nationwide, and sponsored by Hewlett-Packard. According to Computerworld, “UTSA’s 14 undergraduate and graduate programs in areas such as digital forensics, secure design and intrusion detection and response, were ranked first for academic excellence and practical relevance.”
Additionally, five area colleges are designated by the NSA as National Centers of Academic Excellence: UTSA, Our Lady of the Lake University, St. Philip’s College, San Antonio College, and Texas A&M University – San Antonio.
The Alamo Academies — “a national model, if not the national model in workforce education and training,” says Will Garrett — offer training and certification for IT and cyber professionals who start as high school students, and graduate to high-paying jobs upon completion of their program. Several of the Alamo Academies are housed at Port San Antonio, where graduates of their flagship aerospace academy graduate to jobs at Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
“There’s talent here you can’t find anywhere else,” says Garrett. “San Antonio will continue to grow in cyber,” Garrett emphasizes, “because the need continues to grow.”
Not to mention – better weather.